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A Darker Side: Context Matters When Viewing History; Even with Baseball Militaria

Perhaps the majority of Chevrons and Diamonds’ attention, in terms of baseball militaria artifacts, has been centered on equipment, uniforms and original vintage photography. Occasionally we commit time to ephemera in the form of scorecards, programs and scorebooks but since such pieces are scarce and quite difficult to locate, articles dedicated to such pieces are less frequently covered. Obscure baseball- related militaria artifacts truly draw our attention.

With years invested into researching military history, including wartime art used for advertisements, recruiting posters, propaganda and trench art, we keep our eyes open for unique artifacts in these veins. As one can imagine, such an item would stand out when it arrived on the market. A few weeks ago, one appeared and immediately caught our attention. Before exploring this particular piece, it is important to apply context rather than to simply view artifacts strictly through a contemporary lens.

In order to provide context, one must step away from modern-day, emotionally charged and politically fueled fervor. It is important to understand that applying context is not a way to excuse or diminish actions or ideals that today are seen much differently as society analyzes and learns from history.

Racialize.

  1. To give racial character to

Racialism.

  1. A theory that race determines human traits and capacities

Racism.

  1. A belief that some races are superior to others:
    also: a discrimination based on such belief

It is a word that is bandied about and, at present, haphazardly and quite dangerously applied toward subjects, topics, thoughts, people or persons, ideas and ideals or anything that stands in the way of a political movement or ideology. Rather than listen to differing perspectives, the word (in its various forms), is injected into situations in order to stifle voices and to avoid listening to others’ perspectives. The words racist and racism have become the dogma of political social propaganda, a weapon in the “social justice” war.

In warfare, the battle for the minds of one’s own citizens and troops is just as important as the battles for those of their enemies.. Leaders employ tactics such as gross mischaracterization of opponents through propaganda in order to dehumanize the enemy. Spreading fear amongst a populace can have the desired recruiting effect and embolden troops to conduct themselves in manners that are less than humane on the battlefield. If one were to read a social justice-based textbook or attend an educational lecture, it is highly unlikely that the material would present a holistic perspective; that all nations and warring entities employed the same tactic of dehumanizing the enemy. It is far too easy to point all fingers at the United States as the sole responsible participant in this activity during World War II when the facts do not bear this concept out.

During WWII, all of the Axis nations, led by Germany, Japan and Italy and including Finland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, et al, employed ministries of propaganda that were tasked to dehumanize the British, French and Americans as well as specific ethnicities and religious groups residing within the enemy nations that they occupied. Humanity can be anything but humane, especially during a time of war.

Taking a singular viewpoint regarding propaganda is one-sided and is even more dangerous when such actions are employed to disparage a generation, class or race of people. The present-day tactic of painting the United States as the lone aggressor in World War II and of being systematically racist is terribly short-sighted and ignores all of the progress that was taking place. It is very convenient and considerably sloppy (in terms of historical research) to point fingers at the atrocious Executive Order 9066 and the internment of American citizens of Japanese ethnicity while ignoring the same action that imprisoned American citizens of German and Italian origin.

Context is perhaps the most important tool that researchers and historians require when looking back through time and beholding artifacts from a different era. It is also the most challenging aspect to acquire when viewing historical items such as generations-old propaganda, newspapers or even personal correspondence. Setting aside preconceptions and engineered fears and biases opens the door to education and can bring about a true sense of understanding and empathy for people in a specific period.

What does any of this have to do with baseball?

We acquired this envelope due to the connection to the Navy Athletic Instructor school, baseball history and for the artwork. The artwork on the reverse side is an element of history that we had to carefully consider prior to making this purchase (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Gene Tunney, “The Fighting Marine” during WWI, received a commission to join the Navy in order to build a physical fitness program for the Navy and Marine Corps. The Navy Athletics Specialist rating was created as a result Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

When a piece of folk art was recently listed at auction, our attention was focused upon the naval and baseball historical aspects of the piece. The item, a standard (originally blank) letter-sized envelope, was festooned with hand-drawn art with themes of baseball and romance. The addressee, Marino J. Consoli, was at that time serving on active duty in the Navy and in training at the Norfolk Naval Training Station’s Physical Instructor School (also known as the “Tunney School” due to the program’s founder, former heavyweight boxing champion, Gene Tunney). Consoli’s name sounded vaguely familiar, which prompted us to review our compiled wartime service team rosters to determine if he played for the Norfolk Naval Training Station’s Bluejackets or any other command during WWII.

The first and most obvious places to start researching Mr. Consoli were within the baseball and naval service spheres. The only player to surface in the results of a search on Baseball Reference was Joe Consoli,  whose full name was listed as Marino Joseph Consoli. He was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1919 and died on January 10, 1989 in Baltimore, Maryland. A quick search of Navy muster sheets revealed that there are some challenges with Consoli’s name. Further digging into documents such as Draft Card, Pennsylvania Veteran’s Compensation application form, Baseball Bureau Questionnaire and the 1920 and 1940 census uncovered several inconsistencies surrounding Consoli’s name and birthdate.

For his draft card, the date of birth shows July 17, 1919 and lists his mother, Victoria along with the place of birth at Stony Creek Mills source: Ancestry.com)

According to Consoli’s WWII draft card, his full name was “Marino Joseph Consoli” and his date of birth was July 17, 1919, in Stony Creek Mill, Pennsylvania. His closest relative listed was  Mrs. Victoria Consoli, his mother. His occupation was listed as “ball player.” Using this single source, it seemed clear that the two sources pointed to the same man. However, the next few pieces of data began to blur the matter.

Note Consoli’s name and date of birth on his State of Pennsylvania Application for WWII Compensation form (source: Ancestry.com).

We located Consoli’s Pennsylvania Veteran’s Compensation application form that listed his birth date as July 7, 1918, a year and ten days earlier than what was shown on his draft card. This could be a simple typo committed by the Pennsylvania state clerk as the birth location matched on both documents. Also listed on the form were Consoli’s dates of naval service (enlisted January 31, 1943, Reading, Pennsylvania, and discharged January 18, 1946, Naval Separation Center, Jacksonville, Florida) along with some of the duty assignment details (including Headquarters Squadron, Fleet Air Wing Four (operating out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska), Mar 1, 1944 – Oct 31, 1945). Also notable was the veteran’s service number (808 96 41).

Turning to the only two U.S. Navy muster sheets we could locate, we discovered more correlating information along with new confusion.  During February and March of 1944, “Marion” Joseph Consoli, Specialist “A” 1/c, service number 808 96 41 was in transit aboard the Lapwing class minesweeper, USS Avocet (AVP-4) from “an Alaskan port” but was not necessarily part of the ship’s crew. We can surmise that the yeoman merely transposed letters in Marino’s first name as the service number and his rating (Specialist “A” is the designation for the athletic specialist rating) but we are fairly certain that the man listed on the USS Avocet’s muster sheets is the same Marino Joseph Consoli.

Confusion set in while researching Marino “Joe” Consoli, especially when we located his American Baseball Bureau form from 1946. The use of his brothers first name and birthdate, though off by one day, was an odd discovery source: Ancestry.com).

Our investigation into Marino J. Consoli’s wartime service took a turn when we reviewed the Baseball Bureau Questionnaire, completed by him on May 7, 1946. There were several pieces of conflicting information, starting with his stated name of Orlando Joseph “Joe” Consoli and his date of birth, August 21, 1922. With such disparity from the other sources, these two facts cannot be dismissed as mere typographical or alphanumeric transposition errors. Facts that correlated this man to Marion included the location of birth (Stony Creek Mill, PA) and that he served in the Navy during WWII. Armed with new doubts, we began exploring additional documents.

Turning to the 1920 and 1940 census (we could not locate a 1930 record), we located Consoli’s family in Berks County, Pennsylvania. His parents were listed as Angelo (a steel mill worker) and Victoria (both born in Italy). In 1920 (enumerated in February), Angelo was 30 years of age and his young bride of 17 was the mother of a baby boy, Marino, who was 19 months old, which would seemingly place his birth in July of 1918. In the 1940 census, Angelo and his wife Victoria now had three additional children including two daughters and a second son, Orlando (age 18). Was Marino’s younger brother, Orlando, a ballplayer in addition to Marino or was there something else going on?

Within a few minutes of researching Orlando Consoli, we easily ruled him out as being our man. Orlando Angelo Consoli was born on August 20, 1920 (his mother was pregnant at the time of the 1920 census enumeration). His draft card listed his pre-war employment with the Atlantic Refining Company of Reading, Pennsylvania. Orlando enlisted into the Navy on September 21, 1942 and was assigned duty in the Panama Canal Zone (on the Pacific side) as a defender of the resource. He was hospitalized in early 1944 and was discharged from active duty on March 28 of that year. According to his 1972 obituary, he never played professional baseball, leaving us to question why Marion adopted his brother’s name and date of birth (one day later) for the Baseball Bureau questionnaire.

In addition to ruling out Marion’s younger brother, other information listed on the Baseball Bureau form confirmed that “Orlando Joseph” was truly Marino Joseph.  Consoli completed the section, “What would you consider your most interesting or unusual experience while in the service?” He wrote, “Amphibious operations on Attu, Aleutian Islands; not seeing a woman or ‘even a tree’ for 23 successive months,” which tied him to the USS Avocet’s muster sheets. Consoli also disclosed that he was assigned to Fleet Air Wing Four (a seaplane squadron based in the Aleutian Islands) but was a chief boatswain’s mate (rather than an athletic specialist), which was probably more of a change in duties than his rating.

All of the research we uncovered regarding Marion Joseph “Joe” Consoli confirmed that the envelope once belonged to him. We made the decision to acquire the artifact as we discovered that Consoli was not only an 11-year veteran minor league third baseman and manager but also had an extensive career as a major league scout with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Marino Joseph Consoli was a three-sport varsity letterman and captained the soccer and baseball teams in high school. He earned National Honor Society honors with his commitment to academics source: Ancestry.com).

Joe Consoli began scouting in 1954 following his tenure with the class “C” Blackwell Broncos (Oklahoma) of the Western Association. During his career with Pittsburgh, Consoli’s scouting and player signings resulted in more than 125 of them reaching the major leagues including John Smiley (2-time all-star), Stan Belinda, Mike Bielecki, Tim Drummond, Al Oliver (7-time all-star, as well as the 1982 NL batting champion while with Montreal) and Bob Robertson.

Growing up in the Stony Creek Mills suburb of Reading, Pennsylvania, Consoli’s family resided on Taft Avenue, just a few doors down the street from Michael and Minnie Furillo’s family. The Furillo’s youngest son, Carl, would follow his friend  Joe Consoli, a few years his senior, into professional baseball with  greater on-field success with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Years after Consoli’s 1989 passing, his extensive baseball archives (including scouting reports, journals correspondence and other documents) began to surface on the baseball collectibles market. Part of that collection may have included the envelope that was addressed and sent to him in 1943 from an Army nurse named Grosskopf, most likely assigned to the Army Hospital at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, 22 miles northwest of Harrisburg. While the artwork embellishment on the cover was certainly interesting, the hand-drawn illustration on the envelope’s reverse was an example of the national sentiments directed towards the enemy nation that drew the U.S. into World War II – the Empire of Japan.

As offensive as this anti-Hideki Tojo art is to view, it demonstrates the proliferation of propaganda and anger (directed towards Japan) that lingered as the war progressed (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Aside from the baseball and naval history associated with Consoli and the envelope, the propagandized art on the back of the envelope sent by Ms. Grosskopf truly stood out as a reminder of the tenuous situation facing the nation and the citizens who were serving at that time. Daily casualty reports dominated the newspapers as neighborhoods learned of the deaths of their former high school classmates or their neighbors’ sons. Also gracing the newspapers were reports of atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in places such as Nanking, China and the Bataan Peninsula. Contextualizing these facts can lead to understanding why the illustration on the back of the envelope may have been added.

For us, adding this particular piece of history provides us with perspective not typically seen in baseball equipment, uniforms or vintage photographs. Seeing a visual example of the personal, wartime sentiment from 1943 provides insight that is no longer prevalent among our society. Preserving a piece of history that once belonged to a career baseball man who saw action against the enemy in the Aleutian Islands is an honor.

 

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A Lifetime Collection of Images: Star Baseball Player, Sam Chapman, the Tiburon Terror and Wartime Naval Aviator (part II)

(Note: this is the second of a two-part story. See part I of A Lifetime Collection of Images: Star Baseball Player, Sam Chapman, the Tiburon Terror and Wartime Naval Aviator)

Despite playing in the All-Star Game and appearing as a Norfolk Naval Training Station player, Chapman had already transferred from the Norfolk base to U.S. Naval Reserve Aviation Base (Anacostia), Washington, D.C. on June 30th to commence pre-flight training. Unlike the Navy Pre-Flight Schools at the colleges, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, University of Iowa, University of Georgia and St. Mary’s College, Moraga, California), Anacostia’s program was more traditionally focused rather than to have a strong emphasis on sports and competition as part of the physical conditioning as with the college programs. Chapman reported for training and was reduced from a chief athletic specialist (a chief petty officer – CSpA) down to the rank of seaman second class (Sea2/c). In six months’ time, Chapman went from Sea2/c (when he enlisted) to chief boatswain’s mate (CBM) to CSpA and back to Sea2/c however his naval career was about to change and baseball would remain a part of his time in the Navy.

February 4, 1943: Sam Chapman is winning his wings at the world’s largest naval air station here. Chapman, who served as a chief specialist in athletics at the Norfolk, Virginia training station, applied for flight training and received his preliminary instruction at the Anacostia Reserve Aviation Base. He is receiving advanced instruction as a torpedo bomber.

Chapman’s preliminary flight training lasted from July through September of 1942 after successful completion, was transferred to the Navy’s largest naval air station at Corpus Christi, Texas to participate in advanced flight instruction and to train as a torpedo dive bomber. Through the remainder of 1942, Naval Aviation Cadet Chapman went through the rigors of combat flight tactics and other facets of naval aviation such as the intricacies of navigation, carrier take-off and landing and targeting enemy ships.

Recognize him, sports fans? He is Sam Chapman, former Philadelphia Athletics outfielder and one-time All-America halfback at the University of California, who this week entered flight training at Naval Reserve Aviation Base, Washington. Chapman, 26, is the son of Charles Edward Chapman of California. If Sam passes his flight training, he will become and ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve or a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. June 25, 1942

After months of preliminary flight training, Chapman received his commission (as an ensign) and earned the naval aviators’ wings of gold on February 26, 1943.  Ensign Chapman’s aviation path progressed as he moved on to advanced pilot training and torpedo dive bombing school, remaining at NATC Corpus Christi.  While perfecting his skills as a flyer, the Tiburon Terror’s glove and bat were employed by the NATC team. As was the case for fellow major league naval aviator Ted Williams, upon Chapman’s graduation from advanced training, he was assigned to instruct new aviation cadets at the Nava instead of serving in a combat theater.

March 1, 1943: Navy wings and an ensign’s commission in the U.S. Naval Reserve are awarded to Sam Chapman (right), former center fielder with the Philadelphia Athletics, in graduation ceremonies at the Naval Air Training Center, Corpus Christi, Texas. Presenting the designation is Rear Admiral A. E. Montgomery, (left), USN, Commandant of the NATC, Chapman, who specializes in flying torpedo bombers, has been assigned to instructor’s duty here.

By April of 1944, (now) Lieutenant (junior grade) Chapman was teaching cadets how to fly and playing for the Naval Air Advanced Training Command (NAATC) team at Naval Air Auxiliary Station (NAAS) Waldron Field. Joining him on the roster and competing in the Air Center League was another former major leaguer (Boston Braves) and a graduate of Navy Pre-Flight Training, University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), John Franklin “Johnny” Sain.

The eight team-Air Center League consisted of squads from the NAS Corpus Christi (“Main Station”), Waldron Field, Kingsville Field, Chase Field, Rodd Field, Cabiniss Field, Cuddihy Field and Ward Island Naval Air Training Center, all of which are from the surrounding area.  During the 1944 season, the Air Center League featured (former and future major league) ballplayers:

Main Station:

Cabaniss Field:

Waldron Field:

  • Johnny Sain (Boston, NL) – RHP
  • Sam Chapman (Philadelphia, AL) – OF

Cuddihy Field:

Frank C. Lane, former vice president in charge of Cincinnati Red farm teams, made an offer of $7,500 to Chapman in 1937 while the young ballplayer was at the University of California. Lane, a Navy lieutenant commander in charge of athletics for the Corpus Christi, Texas-area Naval Air Stations (which comprised the Naval Air Training Command), including Waldron Field. As a matter of irony, despite rejecting the offer to play for him in 1937, Chapman was now playing baseball for Lane for the meager wages of a junior naval officer while playing for Waldron.

Remember the man on the right? Bedecked in unfamiliar toggery, Sammy Chapman, right, issued last minute instructions to John Franklin Sain, Jr., as he prepares to take off at Corpus Christi, Texas. Chapman, great University of California halfback and later star center fielder with the Athletics, is now a Navy flying instructor with the rank of lieutenant, junior grade. Sain formerly pitched for the Boston Braves.

Chapman met and married Mary Josephine (Frey), formerly of Dallas, during his time instructing Naval Aviation cadets at Corpus Christi. Serving as his best man, Lieutenant Robert D. Gibson, a veteran dive bomber pilot (VB-10 aboard the USS Enterprise) who was awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism in landing direct hits on a Japanese heavy cruiser and a transport vessel.

Following the Japanese unconditional surrender, many of those who volunteered early in the War began to be discharged immediately. Navy Secretary Forrestal and Major League Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler were pushing for assembling a major league all-star team to send on a 90-day tour of the remote installations across the Pacific. Despite this push, the Navy leadership declined the notion. Instead, the Navy decided to pull their own star players from around the glove and assemble them in the Hawaiian Islands for a Navy National League versus American League All Star championship series.  Ted Williams, serving as a flight instructor in Florida was ordered to Oahu for the games.  Due to Chapman’s early enlistment shortly after the December 7, 1941 attack and his length of time in in the Navy, he was released from service and made his way back to the Athletics starting in his first game on September 16th against the Cleveland Indians, going one for four – as he singled off Steve Gromek in the bottom of the first inning. Gromek pitched a five-hit shutout against the A’s limiting Buddy Rosar and George Kell (three-for-four) to account for the remaining four hits. Philadelphia finished in an all-too-familiar position (dead last) in the American League that year.

Pre-war (1938-41) major league stats with the Philadelphia Athletics.

With just a handful of major league games under his belt during the tail end of the 1945 season, Chapman decided to go barnstorming with a team a team assembled by Earle Mack (the son of Philadelphia Athletics’ owner and manager, Connie Mack) that included Bert Shepard, (an amputee who lost his leg due to an anti-aircraft round penetrating his P-38 Lighting fighter aircraft over Germany. His leg was amputated below the knee in a Nazi Prisoner of War camp), Bobo NewsomFrankie HayesEd Lopat, Steve Gromek, Red KressJim Bucher, Buddy Rosar, Jack Early and Dave Keefe. The team started on October 4, 1945 at Rochester, Minnesota and then barnstormed their way to Billings, Montana. After the barnstorming tour, Chapman returned to California, settling in Greenbrae, California, just south of his childhood home of Tiburon.

 

Sam Chapman’s post-War (1945-41) stats

Sam Chapman resumed his major league career with the Athletics in 1946. He would play for the A’s into the 1951 season as his production saw some diminished output over resulting in a trade with the Cleveland Indians.  At the end of the season, Sam called it quits on his major league career opting to play for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast league allowing him to be home with his young and growing family.  In the three seasons Chapman suited up for Oakland (1952-54), he played for managers Mel Ott, Augie Galan and Chuck Dressen respectively and most of the roster was filled by players who were either major league veterans or would go on to play in the big leagues. Sam saw an uptick in his offensive production as he averaged.270 with while sustaining .336 on-base and .429 slugging percentages while tallying an OPS of .765 while totaling 49 home runs (he finished his career with 229 , including his 180 in the big leagues), but his baseball career came to a close at the end of the 1954 season, his last with the Oaks.

Armed with and education from the University of California (Berkeley), Chapman set aside his spikes and glove and and traded them for the tools of the construction trade, building homes, managing his own plumbing and HVAC company before ultimately serving as an inspector for the Bay Area Pollution Control District (Bay Area Air Quality Management District) before retiring. His prowess on the sporting field was never forgotten as his career accomplishments began to be recognized. In 1984, the former halfback was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Joining Willie McCovey as the pair of Bay Area baseball players, Sam was elected to another sports hall of fame in 1987. Though he would never be considered for enshrinement into Cooperstown, being honored in 1999 by having his name and likeness added to the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame, joining legends of both original Philadelphia Major League organizations; the Phillies and Athletics. Samuel Blake Chapman passed away on December 22, 2006 at the age of 90.

February 25, 1952: Sammy Chapman, outfielder under contract to the Cleveland Indians, sizes up a piece of lumber being used by him in the construction of a house, in Mill Valley (California). The one-time Athletics star now owned by Cleveland, says he’s through with big league ball/ He’s traded in his bat and glove for saw and hammer and likes the new occupation of building contractor. Business is good.

The images of Chapman’s life from his youth and throughout his baseball and naval aviation careers were part of the auction group. While I would contend with the seller regarding the condition of the prints as most are well-worn, water-damaged or creased, I wasn’t too disappointed by what arrived. In addition, since they were part of a defunct newspaper’s archive, several of the images had surface-markings (art-pen and paint) to prepare them for half-toning and pressed onto newsprint. A few photos in the 25-image collection were lower-quality wire photos and yet the content of these images are fantastic additions.

 

Sam Chapman served as an air quality inspector in his later years following the end of his baseball career.

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A Lifetime Collection of Images: Star Baseball Player, Sam Chapman, the Tiburon Terror and Wartime Naval Aviator (part I)

The search for vintage photographs is one that is predominantly accomplished with varied, dynamic keywords that more often than not, seldom yield windfalls of images. Occasionally locating an auction listing of an individual print is the norm and yet, competition for that one photograph can drive the price beyond what (I think) it is worth and preclude any chance at an acquisition. There are some moments when being the recipient of the big windfall does happen and this group of photographs underscores the need for patience, experience and knowledge with a measure of risk-taking mixed in.

Shown at its original listing size, this image shows at least two military-related photos contained within the group.. Those two visible images were enough to convince me to bid and then anticipate the unseen photos (source: eBay image).

Military baseball photographs are quite uncommon with original, vintage prints of known major or minor leaguers taken during their time in the armed forces next-to-non-existent.  When I saw a group that was listed at (online) auction, I was floored by the description and the lone accompanying image (showing a selection of a group of photos).  Based on what was visible, this group had the potential to be that windfall that I imagined I would one day find. Photo collection relating to baseball great Sam Chapman,” the description read.  The next few sentences gave me heart palpitations, “Photos date from the very late 1930’s through the 1950’s with most being from the 1940’s. Some show him as a member of the US armed forces during WWII,” the listing continued.  As if I still required confirmation, my decision to set snipe-bid was confirmed when I read, “Most are baseball related. Photos range in size from 6″ x 8″ to 8 1/2″ x 11 1/2″ – Conditions vary from VG to EX-MT with many EX. Most have caption sheets and some have newspaper edit markings.” In the years since I delved into military baseball history, Sam Chapman’s name has been squarely on my radar screen, in particular due to my inadvertently focus on several players who, at some point in their professional careers, were on the Philadelphia Athletics’ roster.

Admittedly, prior to delving into baseball militaria, I only heard the name “Sam Chapman” in relation to baseball history as part of discussion of difficult on-field feats such as unassisted triple plays, no-hitters and perfect games or hitting for the cycle (a batter hits a single, a double, a triple, and a home run in the same game). The 23-year-old Philadelphia Athletics outfielder, Sam Chapman became the 115th player to accomplish the feat when he faced the St. Louis Browns on May 5, 1939.

The 1941 Philadelphia Athletics finished dead last in the American League, 37 games behind the first place (and eventual World Series Champs) Yankees, dropping 90 games out of their 154-game season. Despite the A’s poor showing for the season, their young center-fielder, Sam Chapman had a fantastic year at the plate.  Chapman’s .322 batting average ranked seventh in the American League behind Barney McCoskey (.324), teammate Dick Siebert (.334), Jeff Heath (.340), Joe DiMaggio (.357), Cecil Travis (.359) and Ted Williams’ incredible .406. The turnaround from the 1940 season was very noticeable as he cut his strikeouts in half while raising his average nearly 50 points. Chapman ranked fifth in slugging percentage, seventh in runs batted in and 7th in hits.  In a season that saw two of the greatest offensive displays in the history of the game (Ted Williams’ .400 and Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak), Chapman’s season doesn’t stand out but it was the best of his career.

Chapman with the California Bears

Though he excelled at football, Sam Chapman passed on a contract with the Washington Redskins after being drafted 24th overall. This image was not part of the group of auctioned photos (ninth pick in the third round) in the 1938 NFL draft (image source: Calbears.com).

 

Taken in 1924 when Sam Chapman, Tiburon’s gift to the American League, was a kid of 8. That’s Sam, the little guy on the left. Others in the group, from left to right, are Sam’s older brother, Charley (who died two years ago); his mother, an older sister, Marjorie and a younger sister, Rose. – Jan. 21, 1938

Samuel Blake Chapman, a native Californian by birth, was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area.  A hotbed for baseball talent, the region was the epicenter of the Pacific Coast League with four teams that were anchored by the winningest franchise in the history of the league. Home to the Oaks (Oakland) two teams, the Seals and Mission Reds called Seals Stadium home and 86 miles east was home to the Solons (Sacramento).  Some of the game’s greatest players, managers and pioneers hailed from the region with names such as Tony Lazzeri, Frank Crosetti, the DiMaggio Brothers, Joe Cronin, Lefty Gomez, Harry Heilmann, Frank Chance, High Pockets Kelly, Lefty O’Doul, Ernie Lombardi, Tony Freitas and Charlie Graham cast a long shadow of influence over the area youth.  “My favorite team was the old San Francisco Seals,” Chapman recalled of his youth experiences. “Lefty O’Doul, Earl Averill, a few others like that were my favorites. I used to take two ferryboats across the San Francisco Bay and a long streetcar ride to get to the ballpark to watch the Seals play. I didn’t even know they played ball back East.”

Yet, Chapman excelled in four sports in addition to baseball (football, baseball, basketball, soccer, and track).  His athletic prowess at Mill Valley, California’s Tamalpais High School led to receiving a scholarship to attend school and compete on the field for the University of California Bears where he excelled in Football. As a three-year (1935-37) starter playing on both offense and defense, the halfback worked his way into being selected as a 1937 consensus All American at his position which was not overlooked by professional scouts. Though the National Football League’s 1938 amateur player draft (held on December 12, 1937 in Chicago) bore no resemblance to the present-day spectacle, it wasn’t lost on Chapman being selected by the Washington Redskins who happened to defeat the Chicago Bears to capture the NFL Championship on that same day.  Perhaps Chapman took notice of the Redskins’ backfield that was stocked with talent (Sammy Baugh and Cliff Battles became a force for Washington that season) which could have resulted in the Tiburon Terror with more bench-time rather than carrying the ball had he signed to play football.  Nineteen days after being drafted by the Redskins, Chapman was starting in the 1938 Rose Bowl and contributing the Golden Bears’ 13-0 dominance over the Crimson Tide of Alabama (which was, coincidentally, Paul “Bear” Bryant’s second season as an assistant coach).

May 22, 1938: Chapman wins praise of major league managers (Joe) McCarthy, (Joe) Cronin and (Gabby) Street.

Chapman’s decision to decline to sign a contract avoiding a professional football career might have been surprising to many but for him, there was only one professional sports career path: baseball. Unbeknownst to Chapman, his defensive and batting prowess at Cal Berkeley was being observed by, perhaps the greatest ballplayer in baseball’s history, 51-year-old Tyrus Raymond “Ty” Cobb. The “Georgia Peach,” at the time, was residing in a Spanish Villa (on Spencer Lane in Atherton) close to the Stanford University campus and often took in amateur and professional baseball games in the Bay Area. Having played a role in San Francisco Seals’ 20-year-old star outfielder, Joe DiMaggio’s contract negotiations (with the Yankees) in 1935, Cobb invested time in observing and recognizing major league talent potential in the region.  Though Chapman was unaware, Ty Cobb had been observing the University of California baseball team and took note of their star infielder. Chapman’s Cal teammates mentioned having observed the “Peach’s” presence after the fact but Sam never imagined that he was the one being scouted.

April 9, 1940 – Atlanta, GA: Sam Chapman was out by inches in the first exhibition game here today between the Phillies and Athletics. Gus Buhr, Phillies first sacker, has his foot on the bag as he takes a neat peg from the outfield. The A’s won, 6-1.

Working with his former A’s manager, Cobb wired Mack that he, “couldn’t go wrong on this kid,” encouraging the 75-year-old owner to sign Chapman for $8,500 per year (Joe DiMaggio’s Cobb-negotiated contract three years prior had been for $5,000). For the next three seasons, Chapman developed into a very good ballplayer with the A’s improving in the field and at the plate.  War was raging in Europe and the Far East and the United States was slowly beginning to rebuild its long-ignored military force. President Roosevelt enacted the United States’ first peacetime draft with the stroke of his pen on September 16, 1940 resulting in Sam Chapman joining thousands of other men of age in registering a month later.

Sam’s father, 66-year-old Charles was working as a postmaster for the U.S. Postal Service while his ball-playing, 23-year-old son was out-earning him by nearly a four-to-one ratio. The 1940 census shows that though he was playing major league baseball in Philadelphia, his home of record was with his parents in Sausalito, California.

January 23, 1942: Chapman Joins Feller. Chapman and Feller leave their barracks for a tour of inspection of the Naval Training Station here after Chapman reported for duty today. Both are Chief Specialists in the Physical Fitness Program.

Leading up to World War II, former heavyweight champion boxer-turned naval officer, Gene Tunney (a WWI USMC veteran) was charged with establishing a physical fitness program for the Navy. The result of Tunney’s efforts was the creation of the Navy Athletics Specialist Program and the establishment of a new enlisted rating.  Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, it became apparent to Chapman that he would be drafted and so, enlisted into the Navy on December 29, 1941 in San Francisco, under the V6 program (the classification for General Service and Specialists). Following basic and athletic instructor training, Chapman joined fellow major leaguer Bob Feller at Norfolk Naval Training Station and was promptly assigned to Bosun Bodie’s Bluejackets roster in the early stages of service team baseball play.

Examining the ball are (left to right): Sam Chapman, Bob Feller, Fred Hutchinson and Ace Parker, April 1942.

The Norfolk team was a force to be reckoned with having a formidable pitching trio. Feller headed up the pitching staff that included Maxie Wilson, a former Phillies prospect who last pitched for the Portsmouth Cubs (class “B” Piedmont League) and the Detroit fire-baller, Fred Hutchinson who at just 20 years of age was a rising star for the Tigers before he joined the Navy for the war. Chapman was an offensive leader for the Bluejackets as he fueled victories with his bat and glove.

Charged with assembling a service team of all stars, Lieutenant Mickey Cochrane pulled players from bases as far away as Panama (Canal Zone) to field a team that would take on the winner of the 1942 Major League All Stars. Joining fellow Norfolk Bluejackets players Feller, Hutchinson and (former Pittsburgh Pirates) catcher, Vinnie Smith and Sam Chapman. (Note: Vinnie Smith had a challenge getting his paperwork in order ahead of the Service All Star Game. With two men stationed at Norfolk named Vincent A. Smith, Great Lakes manager, Mickey Cochrane’s request for the former Pirates catcher resulted in mix-up with Vincent Addison Smith receiving orders to travel from Norfolk to Great Lakes. Though the young sailor was willing to play in the game despite not being in possession of the skills nor experience, the Navy managed to cut through the confusion in time to provide proper orders for Vincent Ambrose Smith to travel).

July 3, 1942 – Service All-Stars at the Great Lakes Training Station – Here are stars whose names appear on the roster pf the Service All-Stars at Great Lakes Training Station. Left to right: Emmett Mueller, Philadelphia-infielder; Morrie Arnovich, N.Y. Giants-outfielder; Mickey Harris, Boston Red Sox-pitcher; John Sturm, Yankees-infielder; John Grodzicki, St. Louis Cardinals-Pitcher; Cecil Travis, Washington-outfielder; Ken Silvestri, Yankees-catcher; Pat Mullin, Detroit-outfielder; Lieutenant George Earnshaw, coach; Fred Hutchinson, Detroit-pitcher; Vincent Smith, Pittsburgh-catcher; Bob Feller, Cleveland-pitcher; Sam Chapman, Athletics-infielder.

Ahead of the July 7 match-up between the winner of the Major League Baseball All Star Game and the Service Team All Stars, a series of games on successive days were scheduled and played by the Navy and Army players leading up to the fund-raising charity game in Cleveland. The Great Lakes Bluejackets team, managed by Lieutenant Cochrane was bolstered by the additional Navy players (Bob Feller, Sam Chapman and Vincent Smith) affording the Norfolk men to the time to acclimate to the Great Lakes men.

Great Lakes’ pitcher John Grodzicki and Norfolk’s Bob Feller collaborated in shutting out the Sutherland Paper semi-pro team at Kalamazoo, Michigan on July 3. Feller gave up three singles in the last five innings but the former Cardinal hurler who yielded five safeties, received credit for the win. Sam Chapman, formerly of the Athletics, hit a two-run home-run in the seventh frame.

On Independence Day, the augmented Great Lakes team was taking on the Fort Custer Reception team at Briggs Stadium in Detroit, shutting out the Army squad, 5-0. In the contest, Great Lakes manager and former Detroit Tiger, Mickey Cochrane struck out swinging in his pinch-hit return to his former home-field. Pitching for the Great Lakes team, Fred Hutchinson was locked in a scoreless duel with the Army’s Mickey Harris. The Navy scored in the sixth breaking the scoreless tie and tallied four more in the seventh with Frankie Pytlak’s two-run shot followed by Benny McCoy’s two-RBI-double.

Following the July Fourth game, the augmented Great Lakes Bluejackets faced an all-star team of former American Leaguers. For the Bluejackets, Army players Pat Mullin and Cecil Travis (both formerly of the Washington Senators) powered in some runs in the 8-2 win for the Navy, each hitting a triple (Travis plated three runs with his). Sam Chapman crushed a 400-foot home-run in the July 5th contest as Russell Meers surrendered just six hits and two unearned runs.

On July 6 at the Polo Grounds in New York, the National League hosted the American league for the friendly annual match-up. However, Tommy Henrich, Ted Williams and Bob Johnson were anything but, each notching a hit against the Nationals. Joe DiMaggio tallied two hits and two RBIs scoring a run as he led the American’s offense. Lou Boudreau and Rudy York each cracked solo home-runs as Pitchers Spud Chandler and Al Benton allowed a combined six hits and one run in the 3-1 victory and securing a trip to Cleveland to face the Service All Stars.

Chapman was tagged by Cochrane to play center-field, though not as a starter. The game, played at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium on July 7, 1942, saw the Service All Stars dominated by the American Leaguers. Chapman was overlooked as a starter by Coach Cochrane who went with a former Detroit Tiger center-fielder with only 58 games of major league experience. Pat Mullin went 0-3 against the American League starters until he was lifted late in the game in favor of Sam Chapman (who went hitless in his only at-bat) as the American Leaguers shut down the service members, 5-0.

Continue on to Part II

 

Navy Major League Uniform Insignia – Ratings for Ballplayers

One of the areas I spend time focusing my collecting in is with the navy enlisted rating insignia. For those of you who are neck-deep strictly in baseball memorabilia collecting, rating insignia are the embroidered badges that are affixed to the left sleeve of the navy enlisted uniform and indicate the individual sailor’s job specialty and his or her pay-grade.  I have been collecting this embroidery since I joined the Navy more than 30 years ago – by default, I purchased multiple rating insignia when I was promoted so that I would have enough on hand for all of my uniforms. Once I got out of the service, I merely stored all of my uniforms and accouterments, thereby inadvertently starting my rating badge collection.

September 18, 1943 - Hugh Casey (left), former Brooklyn pitcher, and Pee Wee Reese, former Brooklyn shortstop, wear different uniforms now but are still playing top notch ball. They are the nucleus for a service team at the Naval Air Station, Norfolk, VA (author's collection).

September 18, 1943 – Hugh Casey (at left with boatswain’s mate 1/c rating), former Brooklyn pitcher, and Pee Wee Reese, former Brooklyn shortstop, donned different uniforms for the war but were still playing top notch ball at that time. They formed the nucleus for a service team at the Naval Air Station, Norfolk, VA (author’s collection).

When I started to specialize in the older badges (the most recently made rating badges in my collection dating to World War II), I focused on some specific ratings due to their history or correlation to the job that I held when I served. It was around this time that I began to pay more attention to baseball in the armed forces and the close link shared between the two (dating as far back as the American Civil War), especially in terms of collecting. I recalled years ago when I met a few of the game’s legends (specifically, Bob Feller and Duke Snider) and that I had the opportunity to talk about our common experience in serving in the U.S. Navy. I took stock of the autographs that I have obtained and noted that I had signatures from other major leaguers who also had served.

 

Harold "Pee Wee" Reese takes a swing at the plate for the Norfolk Training Station's Blue Jackets team. (Former) New York Yankees' shortstop Phil Rizzuto (nearest at left) watches with his Bluejackets teammates.

Harold “Pee Wee” Reese takes a swing at the plate for the Norfolk Training Station’s Blue Jackets team. (Former) New York Yankees’ shortstop Phil Rizzuto (nearest at left) watches with his Bluejackets teammates (source: Hampton Roads Naval Museum).

When the U.S. was catapulted into World War II, the Navy was not prepared to fully manage the influx of volunteers that began to respond to the attack by rushing to recruiting stations around the country. The Navy Department had been engaged in new ship construction and modernization of the fleet as war raged in Europe and the far east.  So, too was the anticipation of the swelling of the  Navy’s ranks. In a November 21, 1941 letter from the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation (responsible for personnel management) to create an undefined specialist rating (to provide new enlisted ratings that would be needed in wartime but didn’t fall within the established navy enlisted rating structure) to accommodate the needs (though it is unknown the actual date the rating was created). When it was established, the first four specialists — designated on the rating badge the letters A, I, S and P, bordered by a diamond outline — were authorized in February 1942. Specialists could be appointed directly from civilian life to any petty officer grade depending upon their skill level.

Cleveland Indians pitching ace, Bob Feller had been in the league for nearly six years by the end of the 1941 season. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, he was driving from his home to meet with the Indians management to discuss his new contract for the 1942 season hearing of the attack on his car radio while en route and felt compelled to serve, instead.

Chief Feller (left) meets with his catcher, Walter Cooper at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center.

Chief Feller (left) meets with his catcher, Walker Cooper at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center (source: National Baseball Hall of Fame) .

 

Looking back fondly on his naval service, Feller talked of when he enlisted, “After my basic training, the Navy made me a chief petty officer and assigned me as a physical training instructor (the insignia as denoted with an “A” in the center of a diamond – one of the Navy’s new specialist ratings). It was valuable in its way, but I wanted to go into combat. I’d had a lot of experience with guns as a kid, so I applied for gunnery school and sea duty. After four months of naval gunnery school in Newport, Rhode Island, I was assigned to a battleship, the USS Alabama (BB-60), as a gun-captain on a 40-mm antiaircraft mount that had a crew of 24.

After serving in combat aboard the Alabama, Feller was sent to the Great Lakes naval training center in March of 1945 where he played for and managed the base’s ball club until the end of the war.

23 Aug 1945, Chicago, Illinois, USA --- 8/23/1945-Chicago, IL: With papers placing him on the Navy's inactive list in hand, Chief Specialist Bob Feller, Cleveland Indian pitcher, finds plenty of volunteer catchers in case he decides to practice his pitching arm and toss away precious papers. Feller waves goodbye as he leaves the Navy Demobilization Center at Navy Pier. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

23 Aug 1945, Chicago, Illinois, USA — 8/23/1945-Chicago, IL: With papers placing him on the Navy’s inactive list in hand, Chief Specialist Bob Feller, Cleveland Indian pitcher, finds plenty of volunteer catchers in case he decides to practice his pitching arm and toss away precious papers. Feller waves goodbye as he leaves the Navy Demobilization Center at Navy Pier. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Harold “Pee Wee” Reese of the Brooklyn Dodgers was a rising star for the club’s middle infield as a short stop having just finished his third season and first as an All Star in late 1942. With WWII fully raging in both theaters, the twenty-four-year-old Dodger enlisted and was accepted into the Navy on January 18, 1943 to serve, like Feller, as a physical training instructor. Reese would spend much of his time in this capacity both domestically (commencing with his first duty station at the Norfolk, VA navy base) and in the South Pacific (with the Sea Bees).

Specialist “A” rating badges while not rare are still somewhat difficult to locate. If you are seeking to add any of the specialist badges to your collection, be prepared to pay as much as $40-50 depending upon the rate (petty officer 3/c to chief petty officer). I have seen both the dress blue and dress white variants. It is possible that there are some reproductions being passed due to the higher prices these rating badges command so pay attention to the embroidery work and the patterns used for the eagle.

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